The light-rail train that doesn't need tracks. Photo: CRRC
The light-rail train that doesn't need tracks. Photo: CRRC

The city of Zhuzhou, in Hunan province in central China, has launched a novel light-rail service with carriages that don’t require physical tracks.

A trial run of the city’s Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ARRT) is scheduled to last for three months, on a 3.1-km route with four intermediate stations.

The venture has been overseen by the state-owned CRRC Corp Ltd, which commands a stranglehold of the nation’s rail and metro rolling stock.

The government of Zhuzhou has granted the ARRT trains an exclusive lane and right of way at intersections.

A driver sits at the wheel of the trackless train that can also run on its own. Photo: CRRC

The smart trackless carriages, seen as a hybrid of a bus, train and tram, have rubber tires that do not run on conventional tracks on the ground but double-dashed white lines painted on the road. That gives them the flexibility to service multiple routes, CRRC says.

The ARRT trains follow a virtual, pre-programmed track with margins of deviation to ensure safety, plus a warning and auto-brake that is triggered when a carriage veers off its path.

Sensors on the carriages can detect changes in road condition and adjust speed, with an operating and steering system that can be expanded and upgraded for driverless operations should provincial or municipal governments give the go-ahead.

The 32-meter-long, three-carriage vehicle can carry 300 riders at 70km/h. They also have a small turning radius.

The three-carriage train can carry 300 passengers. Photo: Changsha Evening News

With a computer-aided multi-axis steering system, it requires no extra turning area than a typical 12-meter bus, even when passing through even 90-degree bends in the city’s downtown area, where roads are just two to three lanes.

The new transit system costs just one-fifth of a tram system, as it does not need tracks to be laid.

Moreover, Zhuzhou’s traffic system will turn signal lights to green if an ARRT train is approaching an intersection.

The ARRT was nominated for an award in the “Beazley Designs of the Year 2017,” organized by London’s Design Museum to celebrate the world’s most innovative design ideas.

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